British pro-Palestinian activist: My denied entry to Israel

A British pro-Palestinian activist can’t understand why he’s denied entry to Israel

Name: Gary Spedding  ID: UK Labour Party member (photo credit: Courtesy)
Name: Gary Spedding ID: UK Labour Party member
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I first came in contact with Gary Spedding through a Facebook post. I had already heard of him as an activist who was known to work for peace and unity. Scrolling through Facebook one day, I saw that a friend posted asking if anyone could help Spedding, as he was being denied entry into Israel at Ben-Gurion Airport. I contacted Spedding, Knesset members and several other parties who might be able to help. Unfortunately, we were unable to help him gain entry into Israel. However, the brief encounter with this amazing person had me intrigued, wanting to learn more about him.
On a recent visit to the UK, I reached out to Spedding, and asked him if he wanted to meet. Due to a previous commitment, I had to stay within the confines of a Jewish neighborhood in Manchester, where my parents live.
The minute Spedding “rocked up” to the house, I noticed he was like “a kid in a candy store.” His fascination with the surroundings was incredible, yet he was relaxed and comfortable being among Jews. I gave him a short tour, and when we entered the kosher supermarket, he picked up several items that said “produced in Israel.” He checked to see they weren’t produced in the territories. When he saw they weren’t, Spedding said, “I must buy these.”
We went to a kosher café, ordered coffee, and started talking.
Spedding, 29, grew up in Tyneside, a city near Newcastle. As a child he had a Lebanese neighbor, and when war began between Lebanon and Israel in 2006, Spedding saw his neighbors’ fear and concern for their relatives in Lebanon.
At that moment he made a vow in his heart to become a pacifist and to fight for peace worldwide. Using all forums available to him, including social media, Spedding started his activism to try to foster peaceful resolutions to all strife, violence, and wars.
His activism started bearing fruit, and Spedding began making contact with high-ranking officials on both sides of the conflict. After several visits to Israel between 2010 and 2013, Spedding attended Queens University Belfast, where he continued his activism, founding the Palestine Solidarity Society and became its president.
One of his activities was to organize a protest at a speech given by Solon Solomon, a former legal adviser to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. At the speech in February 2011, some of the protesters took matters too far and physically attacked Solomon, an action strongly condemned by Spedding. It was later proven in court that he had not taken part in the violence.
In 2014 Spedding decided to come see Israel for himself. He arranged meetings with high-ranking Israeli and Palestinian leaders, but when he arrived he was detained, his documentation examined and his phone scrutinized, after which he was denied entry and sent back to the UK. The reason given: his part in the protest against Solomon.
Spedding was presented with a 10-year ban from entering Israel, but he appealed and the ban was reduced to five years. After being sent back to the UK, he started working with the Labour Party and fighting for a better future for Britain.
Spedding believes that Labour itself is a great party, and that its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, “really does want to help the UK to become a more socialist and democratic country. But he is surrounded by the wrong advisors. Furthermore, the Labour MPs who are leaving – those who do good – are leaving due to the rise of antisemitism within the party, and their leaving is harming the Labour Party.”
It is disturbing, he says: “I have sent many dossiers to Labour leadership saying this is an area we must address and take care of.” He cited Luciana Berger as a real asset to the party, and the antisemitism which led to her resignation a threat to the party as a whole.
“She resigned in protest to what she considered the committee’s apathy toward antisemitism,” says Spedding. “She was one of the Labour Party leaders, and she left as a protest against the rising antisemitism in the party, including toward her. Corbyn should have stood up, made a public apology, and taken swift action against those who dared to attack her for her ethnic background.”
Spedding has vowed to tackle the antisemitism in the party, and has posted several times calling on Corbyn, and the leadership, to take action, even going as far as to issue an ultimatum: tackle the issue within a year, or he will resign from the party.
With the five-year ban ending recently, Spedding repeatedly applied to the Israel Embassy in London requesting permission to fly to Israel. Without a reply and knowing the ban had expired, he booked a flight.
However when he arrived in Israel, he was again detained, his private documentation scrutinized, and he was promptly returned to the UK, for not coordinating his visit with the Israel Embassy. His ban was extended to 2021.
Spedding was bewildered. “The media and the pro-Israel activists are comparing me to Satan. All I want is peace,” he tells me. “I’m hoping Israel sees the wrongness in her actions and cancels the ban so I can come back to Israel, the country I miss dearly. And I really want to catch up with friends I’ve made from previous visits.”
This column is titled People of Israel. “I’m people of Palestine, but I’m also people of Israel,” Spedding insists.